How the Eucharist Liberates Us
Continuing from last month’s discussion of the Eucharist as a real encounter with Jesus, let us reflect on three other dimensions of the sacrament. The connection with the body of the Church, the connection with the roots of our faith, the connection with the children of Israel.
First, we all know the Eucharist as “Holy Communion”. The encounter with Jesus does not just end as a meeting with Jesus. There is a deeper significance: When you and I receive Holy Communion, we are each united with Christ, and as each is united with Christ we get united with one another and with everyone else who receives him.
Consider this: When you receive you are not only united with the person next to you, but with everyone else in your church and in the world who has received. Jesus’ body and blood mysteriously turn all of us into one single body — the body of Christ!
Holy Communion also connects us with the roots of our faith. Jesus deliberately chose the time of the Jewish Passover meal to institute the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Some parishes have what I consider to be a very good practice — commemorating the Jewish Paschal meal before Maundy Thursday.
This is a reminder of our connection with the children of Israel who were to eat the Passover lamb before their departure from Egypt, the land of slavery. The lamb was to be a male without blemish, and each family was to sprinkle the doors of their houses with the blood of the lamb, and the Lord was to “Passover” all the houses on which the blood was put, and thus the children of Israel would be safe from the destruction that was meant for the Egyptians (Exodus 12).
The Passover was to mark the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. For us Jesus is the Lamb of God that is sacrificed. The blood of this Lamb without blemish emancipates us from the bondage of sin and from the clutches and tyranny of Satan.
The Passover Lamb was a source of life for the Israelites. Jesus described himself as “the bread of life” that we must eat: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Jesus said these words before the night of the Last Supper.
And so when he instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, he had prepared his disciples for this very hard teaching which caused many of his followers to desert him. “This is a hard teaching”, they said, “Who can accept it?” (John 6:60).
Unfortunately, Christians in many churches today have the same doubts, as they do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, believing that the bread and wine are only symbols.
When Jesus asked the Twelve whether they also wanted to leave, Simon Peter gave the answer that guides us Catholics and others who share our faith: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Thus salvation comes from believing in Jesus Christ and his teaching, and from eating his body and drinking his blood.
We can explain the importance of eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood by saying that all life comes from God. Away from God, there is no life.
When we receive Holy Communion we are united with the very source of life; we partake of the Lord’s divine nature and are liberated from that which separates us from God and spiritually harms and destroys our souls.